U.S. Military Records Thousands of Missing Military-Grade Weapons, Including TNT, Rockets

The U.S. military has thousands of weapons missing from its inventory.

Rockets, land mines, and other explosives have been reported missing from the armed forces. Many of these missing items are being labeled as thefts, with troops falsifying records to cover them up. One such case involved a Marine Corps demolition specialist who stole 13 pounds of C4 plastic explosives in order to prepare for a theoretical civil war.

"I had one thing on my mind and one thing only, I am protecting my family and my constitutional rights," the unnamed specialist wrote in a statement to authorities.

The military is taking action against these alleged thefts. Although they acknowledge that the number of servicemen stealing such equipment is low, they still do not want the weapons to fall into the wrong hands.

"We want to get the number to zero, so there is no loss, but it doesn't mean that we don't take seriously losses that happened," said Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Orland to the Associated Press.

Outside of theft, the report said that poor record-keeping and oversight are also major factors in the growing number of missing explosives and firearms. Such was the case for a criminal investigation at Quantico, Virginia, that saw cans of explosives and detonators disappear from inventory.

As for specific military bases, the Associated Press received data from each service branch regarding thefts of explosive devices from 2010 to 2020. The Army recorded nearly 1,900 missing explosives, mainly TNT, with over half of those eventually being recovered. The Marine Corps' data was too unclear to accurately measure, while the Air Force reported that around 50 pounds of C4 were missing. Finally, the Navy reported the lowest amount of explosives lost with only 20 hand grenades stolen, 18 of which were recovered.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

TNT
According to the Associated Press' AWOL Weapons investigation found that thousands of rockets, land mines, and other explosives have been reported missing from the armed forces. A photo showing a block of TNT as Marines train in the background at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. U.S. Marine Corps via AP

In August, an artillery shell exploded at a Mississippi recycling yard. Chris Smith had been taking a work break from the heat, drinking water and chewing tobacco. Suddenly he found himself cradling a co-worker who was bleeding profusely from his legs. The man died right there.

"For no reason at all," Smith said in an interview.

Two days later, an intact shell was found at the scrap yard. The local sheriff's department said the round was the kind used in a howitzer, a long-range artillery weapon.

Investigating authorities suspect the shells came from Camp Shelby, an Army National Guard base about 40 miles away. Mississippi National Guard spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Deidre Smith said she knows of no evidence the shell originated there.

Metal salvaging thieves have targeted Shelby before, according to federal authorities. A man was injured by an explosion at his Gulfport, Mississippi, home in 2012 when he tried to open one of 51 AT-4 anti-tank shells taken from the impact area of Shelby's training range. Five people pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Explosives have been found in homes and storage units, inside military barracks and alongside roads, even at a U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint. These were not rusty war trophies cast out of grandpa's attic. They came from military shipments or bases. Many were taken by military insiders.

The AP's AWOL Weapons investigation has shown that poor accountability and insider thefts have led to the loss of more than 2,000 military firearms since 2010. Some guns were used in civilian crimes, found on felons or sold to a street gang.

In response, Congress is set to require that the military give lawmakers detailed loss and theft reports every year.

One thing those reforms won't do: Make it harder to steal explosives such as C4.

Although at least two people are supposed to sign consumption reports, it's an honor system. If explosives are not used and vanish, only the thief might know. Explosives may not have individual serial numbers for tracking, and plastic explosives are easily concealed because, like Play-Doh, they can be cut or shaped.

Not all missing explosives need to be reported all the way up the military's bureaucracy. These reporting gaps mean official loss and theft numbers collected by the Office of the Secretary of Defense undercount the problem's full extent. For example, the services don't have to tell the Pentagon about losses or thefts of less than 10 pounds of C4, although each branch can have more stringent internal regulations.

"The numbers are exceedingly small for loss of explosives," chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told AP in June.

The AP also unearthed dozens of explosives investigations by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command and Defense Criminal Investigative Service. In the majority of these 63 cases, the military didn't realize any explosives were gone until someone recovered them where they shouldn't be.

Quantico Grenades
"We want to get the number to zero, so there is no loss, but it doesn't mean that we don't take seriously losses that happened," said Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Orland. Stolen military fragmentation grenades found in a home in Quantico, Virginia, on January 19, 2010. Naval Criminal Investigative Service via AP